As Amazon Prime day descends upon us yet again – I ask – has the discount ruined us? I argue yes it has.
When I started my business, I told myself I would not be offering discounts upon discounts and deep cuts to my prices for every Hallmark holiday. For the most part, I have kept to this promise and continue to believe ever deeper in this way of business. Field Study Clothing pieces are special garments meant to be treasured and kept for a long time. The pieces are priced at a slammin’ good value for the quality, but also for the quality of life it provides to me, the maker and creator. Prices are not exorbitant and are comparable to many other brands out there. The money you spend brings so much more to me, to our community, and actually to you, the consumer. The money you spend goes directly into the community where you live, supporting people you know and love (ok maybe not quite love, but heavily like). But I still find that friends, customers, and idle passers-by comment on the pricing. Yet these same people also know and lament on the cheapness of clothing at big chain stores. Unravelling, pilling, stretching, or shrinking with every wear. And I still have plenty of friends and acquaintances who seek out the deal and feel slighted if they buy something that’s not on sale. People who won’t blink an eye buying five $10 shirts, but scoff at one well-made $58 tank top. More is better reigns supreme. Hey, hey capitalism. But I feel like we are starting to turn a corner on this consumer mentality.
Even as we see news stores and investigative journalism pieces on the terrible working conditions and low pay of employees at big box stores; as Bezos auctions off a ticket to space for 28 million, I still see hope in these smaller brands that have popped up and are persevering despite it all. And this is what I’m latching on to, that even though people will continue to buy copious amounts of single use plastics and cheap clothing, that same person is also starting to buy one or two pieces of sustainably made clothing. Or, at least know what sustainably made means or have heard of the term slow fashion. Like anything, it’s going to take time, and boy and I here for it. Just please don’t make me wait too long.
An idea that I’ve thought of recently is that if folks in the U.S. market gets to buy something cheaply, that means we are making someone, somewhere else poor or keeping them poor. This goes back to simple supply and demand. There is demand for cheaply made clothing in the U.S. or other rich countries, so that means there is someone making those clothes for next to nothing. I can’t help but feel if we demanded transparency, better working conditions, more humane treatment of our fellow human beings, that these companies would be forced to change. As they say, vote with your wallet. And every single dollar spent counts. If millions of people are buying the same $10 t-shirt, that’s 10s of millions of dollars or “votes” for a candidate you really don’t want to win.
Let me break this down for you, in terms of my own business. Let’s take the Lombard Tank as an example. I buy the linen from a local fabric store, that shirt takes about 1 yard of fabric at $6.99/yard. Now, I know that I am not getting the best deal on that fabric because I am not buying 100’s of yards, but I am also making very small batches and nothing is going to waste. So, again, little to no waste (I think) is worth paying a bit more for. Ok, so we are $6.99. Plus the rick-rack detail, thread, needles, etc. is about $1.50, so now $8.49 for materials. I pay myself $20/hr for labor, which by the way is about $40k/year and after taxes is about $34k/year. This tank, from washing the fabric, to cutting it out by hand, to sewing, pressing, and tagging, takes about 1.25 hours per shirt. So now the total cost of the shirt plus labor is about $33.50. I price the tank at $58, which is less than double the raw cost. The reason I price at $58 is if I ever wanted to make these available for wholesale, you have to have a reasonable margin so the retailer can make some money. Another thing to mention is that I made 16 of these shirts. So if I sell every single one of them in one week, I will net $392. Wow, not a lot. Transparency is very important to me, and I want to show you every step of the process so you understand the pricing.
Think about that $10 dress that’s for sale on Amazon – I can’t even start to process how they make any money. They are either losing money on that dress, or are making pennies. So, to make any money they need to sell thousands of dresses, pump them out as fast as possible, pay their people as little as possible, find the materials for as cheap as possible, for a dress that may fall apart or be thrown away months later. I makes me cringe. This is why I started Field Study Clothing – so people had an alternative to this fast fashion machine that is wreaking havoc on our fellow humans and earth.
One more idea to ponder before I go. I’ve recently been thinking about the U.S. mentality toward goods and products vs. the European model. Uh, I know, I feel like we are always being compared to the holier-than-thou Europeans who have every fucking thing figured out, but hear me out. I see over and over again, U.S. customers falling over themselves to buy $2000+ handbags (yes handbags not purses, this isn’t the proletariat) from luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Hermes (more like $15,000 for ol’ Hermes). What do all of these brands have in common? They are old, extremely well-made quality products, made out of quality materials. Side note – these brands at least they started out that way, I don’t know the current state of how these luxury products are made because you hear stories about Chanel being made in the same factory as Old Navy. But my point is, Europe has cultivated this idea that quality is worth paying for, saving for, keeping, cherishing, and passing down to your children. Americans LIKE that idea, they want that. But when it comes to American made goods, I find there isn’t the same enthusiasm. The reverence just isn’t there. Now of course there are some American brands that get this kind of respect – Red Wing Shoes, Maker’s Mark, Airstream, but I can’t think of many luxury clothing or handbag brands with that kind of clout. Of course, we have wonderful American designers, but many of them have turned into churn and burn machines – Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Tory Burch. You smell what I’m steppin’ in?
I’m not exactly sure where to end this post, but what I’m trying to say is – let’s change our mindset on the sale. Let’s embrace paying more for something that’s higher quality. Challenge yourself to start bragging about the quality of a piece instead of bragging about how cheap you got it. Don’t mention the price at all, talk about the maker who made it, the quality of the materials, the detailed workman ship. That’s why I say Field Study Clothing is clothing you can brag about. Hoping these thoughts help us all do better.
Something I missed? Tell me your thoughts below.